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Topical Questions

Volume 567: debated on Wednesday 4 September 2013

My responsibilities are for the Efficiency and Reform Group on the public sector, civil service issues, industrial relations strategy in the public sector, Government transparency, civil contingencies, civil society and cyber-security.

Will my right hon. Gentleman give us an update on how he plans to take his very valuable reform forward?

We are making some progress on civil service reform. It was absolutely essential that we published in July our one-year-on report on progress. The head of the civil service, Sir Bob Kerslake, and I were very forthright in saying that progress had not been as fast as we would have hoped, but we are stepping up the pressure and the pace.

While there are now rumours of significant concessions, Ministers still need to explain why charities were not consulted before the lobbying Bill was published. Why could not even the junior Minister be bothered to pick up the phone to the Royal British Legion, cancer charities or the National Council for Voluntary Organisations before producing a Bill that will have such a chilling impact on the work of charities?

The hon. Gentleman knows very well that we spent a significant amount of time on this in the House yesterday and that there is more opportunity to discuss it next week. He will also know that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and I met charity leaders on Monday and will continue to do so. [Interruption.]

Order. There is still far too much noise in the Chamber. I understand the general excitement, which I am sure is in anticipation of the question from Mr Henry Smith.

T3. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the £10 billion- worth of efficiency savings that his Department has made on behalf of the taxpayer in the past year. What ambition does he have for the coming year? (900102)

We hope that those savings will rise to £15 billion in the current year, and potentially to £20 billion the following year, with a further £5 billion, at least, after that. If only the Leader of the Opposition had started to do this when he held my job, perhaps we would not have inherited quite the size of public sector deficit that we did, but I am afraid that he was showing weak leadership even then.

T2. The Minister’s response to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West (Mr Thomas) was to say that she had met charities on Monday. What was she doing all summer while the ramifications of this dog’s breakfast of a lobbying Bill became clear? (900101)

We were doing more over the summer to introduce a statutory register of lobbyists than Labour ever did.

Does the Minister share my concern that too many charities spend too much money on lobbying and on inflation-busting pay rises and bonuses for the boardroom, and that they ought to be concentrating more on the front line of helping people in need?

I hear my hon. Friend. I happen to think that campaigning continues to be an entirely legitimate activity for charities as long as it fits with their charitable objectives. That has always been the Government’s position and I do not see this legislation affecting that.

T4. Leading human rights lawyer Helen Mountfield QC said this week that the transparency of lobbying Bill will put“small organisations and their trustees/directors in fear of criminal penalty if they speak out on matters of public interest and concern.”Will the Minister finally wake up and do something about this appalling Bill?

(900103)

That leading QC’s advice in fact bears out that those concerns exist under the current legislation. Furthermore, we see a great show of displacement activity among Labour Members because they are afraid of some of their friends coming under scrutiny.

T5. Is it not the case that the transparency of lobbying Bill would not stop lobbyist Lynton Crosby advising the Prime Minister on tobacco policy, but could stop an organisation such as Cancer Research UK campaigning about it? Is that acceptable? (900104)

We explained at length yesterday that the Bill would not affect or change the law concerning the political activity of charitable organisations in the sense of when they support, promote or procure electoral outcomes. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has answered the first part of the hon. Gentleman’s question too many times to count.

T6. But the Government’s lobbying proposals would apply only to third-party consultant lobbyists, who make up a small minority of the industry. The Association of Professional Political Consultants estimates that this means that only 1% of ministerial meetings organised by lobbyists will be captured by the legislation. Does the Minister agree with Iain Anderson of the APPC that this Bill is so bad that it“would be difficult to produce a worse Bill”? (900108)

If that was an attempt at lobbying it was rather too long-winded. The point is that we are doing more to introduce a statutory register than Labour ever did, and we are clearing up a specific transparency gap that arises, because we are the most transparent Government ever and I think the hon. Gentleman knows it.